2017 Fiat 124 Spider : Review
The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is a two-seat convertible roadster that marks the return of a historically popular Italian nameplate, and a welcome addition to the Fiat lineup in the United States.
“There’s no better way to celebrate 50 years of the Fiat 124 Spider than to bring back this iconic roadster, pairing its Italian styling of the past with all of the modern performance and technology of today,” said Olivier François, Head of FIAT Brand, FCA – Global. “The 124 Spider expands the FIAT family, bringing to market yet another head-turning, fun-to-drive vehicle for our customers.”
The new Fiat 124 Spider shares some characteristics with its nearly 50-year-old predecessor, but most younger drivers will immediately associate this iteration with another popular roadster on the market, the Mazda MX-5 Miata. It’s no secret that the “Fiata” is based on the MX-5 platform, and assembled in Japan by Mazda. We were recently invited to San Diego for quality time with the sexy new Fiat, and now that we’ve ridden both topless sisters, we’re ready to give our heart to one of them. Don’t forget your sunscreen, or you’ll get burned like us when you’re Free Like a Bird and out there having fun, in the hot California Sun.
Not to overly simplify the work of skilled professionals, but it seems to us that making a two-seat convertible look fun to drive is among the easiest tasks that a car designer would be asked to undertake. That being said, the task here was certainly more challenging as Fiat designers at Centro Stile in Turin, Italy needed to differentiate the 124 Spider from its sister vehicle without upsetting fans of the 50-year-old classic. While we would have liked to see some more obvious nods to the original (circular headlights, chrome bumper, retro wheels) we’re definitely in the camp that finds the exterior styling on the Fiat 124 Spider more appealing than the new Miata.
The two roadsters share a single platform, but the Spider has completely different sheet metal, and is five inches longer. This allows for slightly more trunk space and a more traditionally proportioned stance. Homages to the historic 124 Spider include the horizontal line that kicks up over the rear fender, the hexagonal honeycomb grille, and “power domes” on the front hood.
We greatly appreciate some wild color choices available on other Fiat models (like Yellow and Orange), but unfortunately the color palette is a bit tame on the Fiat 124 Spider. Choices include Red, White, Black, Grey, Dark Grey, Bronze, and Pearl. The most adventurous of the bunch is probably the very limited “Azzurrio Italia” (Blue) you see on the model below.
To celebrate the return of the classic nameplate, the first 124 vehicles will be offered as a limited-edition Prima Edizione Lusso. Each will be individually numbered with a commemorative badge and available in exclusive Azzurro Italia (Blue) exterior paint with premium leather seats in Saddle. Owners who purchase a Prima Edizione will also receive limited- edition items, including wearables and a poster.
The interior of the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is a bit of a mixed bag. It is essentially the same as the interior of the Miata, so there are very few cues taken from the original Fiat 124 Spider to be found inside the cabin. Sorry, no wood-paneled dash here. Our least favorite aspect of the interior is the trunk release button location, which taller drivers will constantly open with their knee (like we did 5 times during our drive). The solid black interior is the only option offered on the Classica trim, and the premium leather Saddle color definitely makes the Lusso (Luxury) trim a worthy upgrade for us. We’re suckers for two-tone interiors, and the saddle color is absolutely gorgeous.
For drivers of the “Big & Tall” variety, you’ll be far from comfortable driving the Fiat 124 Spider, but you may be having too much fun to notice on a test drive. We definitely recommend putting the top down for easier ingress and egress.
If you want to maximize your Fiatness while minimizing the Mazdaness in your 124 Spider, then the sporty Abarth trim is definitely the way to go. The interior styling is just the first thing to love about the Abarth…
The interior design reflects the performance-oriented details for which cars sporting the Scorpion badge are famous. There is Rosso (red) stitching throughout, including on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, wrapped instrument cluster hood, lower instrument panel and parking brake. A matte black instrument panel bezel, unique instrument cluster, aluminum-accented sport pedals and unique gear shift knob help to differentiate the Abarth model. Unique Nero (black) leather/microfiber seats are standard, while leather seats in Nero (black) or Nero/Rosso (black/red) are available. For true performance enthusiasts, leather and Alcantara Recaro seats are also available in Nero (black).
The exterior of the Fiat 124 Spider is distinct from the Mazda MX-5 but the interior is relatively similar. So what about the performance? Here we’re happy to say the Fiat engineers have taken an already fabulous platform and improved upon it with more power and a stiffer suspension. The 124 Spider comes with the 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo four-cylinder engine that Fiat uses in the 500. It delivers 160 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft of torque, with both figures coming in higher than the lighter Miata. The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider was certainly fun to drive as we zipped along Southern California roads and dove into every corner. The automatic transmission felt a bit slow to shift to us, so we’re wondering if it might still be adjusted before the vehicle hits the market. Either way, if you’re a driving purist looking to purchase a roadster, you’re probably going to opt for the manual transmission with its short responsive throws.
If you’re really interested in performance, we can’t stop with just the base model, we have to discuss the Abarth. We had the great pleasure of driving the Abarth model (with some additional Mopar goodies) on an autocross track, and it was glorious. We’ve driven autocross numerous times in the past with a variety of vehicles, but never before have we felt like the car we were driving was absolutely made for that specific task. We can’t think of an experience more likely to cause an auto-enthusiast to smile than putting them behind the wheel of Fiat 124 Spider Abarth on an autocross course.
The Abarth trim adds 4 horsepower due to the quad exhaust, but you’re not likely to notice that difference scientifically. However there is a substantial difference to how the throaty Abarth will make you feel when you drive it.
The Abarth is about more than an awesome black matte hood and inspired exhaust note though, below are the Abarth performance enhancements:
The Abarth-exclusive Sport Mode changes the calibrations of the engine, automatic transmission, electric power steering and dynamic stability control system to ensure a sporty, responsive and performance-oriented driving experience. A mechanical limited-slip differential, featuring a low torque bias ratio, provides improved traction and handling, as well as improved launch performance and power delivery during cornering. The Abarth’s unique sport suspension includes mono-tube Bilstein front and rear shock absorbers for increased traction and more precise handling. The available Brembo braking system with 17-inch alloy wheels offers monoblock aluminum calipers with four pistons, allowing for improved braking.
We set out to determine how the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider stacks up against the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata. On the similarly priced base trims, we prefer the exterior styling of the Fiat, and also prefer the way it drives. Pricing gets much more complicated from there, but generally the Fiat 124 Spider is priced lower than the Mazda, which makes the superior 124 Spider Abarth a no-brainer when compared to the MX-5 Club. The only hesitation we have is in regards to reliability and residual value, which is where the Italians have historically not fared as well as the Japanese. Only time will tell in that regard, but our recommendation would be to go with your heart when you’re thinking about a convertible roadster. Our heart is with the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider.